Give Thanks for First-World Problems

Paul Jacob

12/1/2013 12:01:00 AM - Paul Jacob

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s simple and unpretentious — a good meal and time spent with loved ones, remembering to count our blessings.

This Thanksgiving, however, a social media maelstrom struck over stores opening for business on what George Washington declared in 1789 to be “a DAY OF PUBLIC THANKSGIVING and PRAYER.” Anti-shoppers attacked shoppers for being “part of the problem.”

What problem?

For years, many stores have opened their doors on Thanksgiving, without any tear in the fabric of the space-time continuum. No one has yet come forward to claim that he or she was forced at gun-point to drive to the mall or a big box store to “shop or else.”

But this year many stores did indeed open earlier than before. Walmart and Target and Best Buy, oh my!

Predictably, much of the controversy was ginned up by the inveterate Walmart haters, who incessantly complain that the world’s largest private employer pays wages and provides benefits so low that . . . well, arguably only these same complainers offer workers less. (Why Walmart employees opt to work at the giant retailer, instead of taking all those more lucrative job offers, is anyone’s guess.)

A writer for “Daily Kos Labor” argues that, “workers shouldn’t have to rely on having an especially good boss to get to spend Thanksgiving with their families.”

The implication? No one should have to work on Thanksgiving. Yet, closing down hospitals for a day doesn’t makes sense. And folks needing to travel to be with “their families” might also need a gas station to be open. Hunter-gatherers could no doubt all take the same day off, but that’s certainly not optimum in a modern society.

Matt Walsh blogged of a great transformation, earth-shattering, as he would have it: “a holiday created by our ancestors as an occasion to give thanks for what they had, now morphs into a frenzied consumerist ritual where we descend upon shopping malls to accumulate more things we don’t need.”

We?

Did you “descend upon” a shopping mall on Thursday or Friday?

And if you did — it is your inalienable right, after all — did you purchase stuff you “don’t need”? Or, perhaps, just items some know-it-all you never met presumes you don’t need?

Our birthright of liberty clearly includes the right to paint with a broad brush and pontificate condescendingly about what other folks ought to do and not do. But it also includes working and shopping and buying and selling.

New York Post columnist Nicole Gelinas sounds alarm bells that workers required to make time-and-a-half or double-time for clocking in on the holiday were being “cut off from fully celebrating America’s all-race, all-religion family holiday.”

My Mom was a nurse and sometimes had a to work on the holiday. It might have been nicer not to have to wait for her shift to end before feasting — for us kids not to suffer the awful indignity of actually having to help out in stuffing and cooking the turkey. That’s what being “cut off” from a “full” celebration seems to mean. But somehow we managed, as William Faulkner once said, to “not merely endure, but to prevail.”

Thankfully, Gelinas adds, “It’s shoppers, not the government, who should force stores to close.”

She’s right there. The government should butt out entirely.

Everyone has a right to boycott stores for opening on Thanksgiving. Such boycotts enjoy a rich history in America. Further, without any organized long-term protest, if enough folks simply decide to stay home stuffing their faces or watching football on TV, and don’t go shopping, retailers won’t be slow to get the message and close.

Of course, even watching football on TV requires a whole bunch of people to be employed outside the home, from the players and coaches and referees to the stadium vendors and security personnel to the television announcers and technicians.

Boy, this “problem” seems intractable . . . at least, until one considers that it is a distinctly first-world problem.

That is, no problem at all.

Could it be a blessing for which we should gratefully enumerate? Since the holiday being celebrated is all about giving thanks, wouldn’t having a job be something to put way up high on the list of things we’re thankful for?

Someone on the edge as to funding their family’s needs might even see working on Thanksgiving as a wonderful opportunity. I’ve been there. Most folks have. We would all likely prefer to win the lottery and have everything come easy, but when our numbers don’t come up (in most cases because we’re too smart to gamble our dollars away), we are grateful for the chance to earn our way in the world.

That’s precisely the original idea behind Thanksgiving, to give thanks for the opportunity to labor and struggle, free to make our own way in the world.

That freedom sometimes results in us having to work a holiday, and having to get together with family to count our blessings another day. Some might say that every day in America provides an occasion for offering thanks.

Including today.

Be grateful for our freedoms. Which includes the fact that we’re not yet wholly under the thumb of anti-consumerist bullies.     [references]